New ‘Light-Field’ Camera Revolutionary, But Better as Second Device: Mossberg


Insight on the Lytro Light Field Camera

WSJ personal technology columnist Walt Mossberg reviews the Lytro Light Field Camera.

How many times have you found yourself retaking photos because of poor focus?  How often have you missed the perfect moment to capture a photo because it took too long for your camera to take the picture?

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A camera with a revolutionary new technology called “light field” photography aims to change all that and it accomplishes the task quite well, according to Wall Street Journal Personal Technology Columnist Walt Mossberg.

At first glance, the $399 Lytro looks more like a small telescope than a digital camera, Mossberg said in his weekly All Things Digital segment on FOX Business.  The 7.5-ounce camera has a large, wide-open lens that remains open, even while zooming (it features 8X optical zoom).  On the other end, it has a touch screen with relatively few commands and icons to keep it uncomplicated.  And it only has three buttons on its body: the power, the shutter, and a slider zoom control, he said.

So what makes this odd-looking device so special?  According to Mossberg, photos from the camera can be focused and refocused in any way you like after being taken, even years later.  Say you take a picture of your dog sitting in the backyard at sunset, and you focus on the dog.  Later you think to yourself that while your furry pet is indeed quite handsome looking, the sunset is what was truly breathtaking in that snapshot.  No problem, just change the photo’s focus to the sun descending in the background.

The Lytro makes this possible using light-field technology that came out of research from Stanford University.  "It takes in a lot more information about what's hitting the lens than a typical camera does, including the direction of the light rays.  In fact, they actually quantify this camera not in terms of megapixels, but in terms of light rays.  They say they can capture 11 million light rays,” Mossberg explained.

The camera also takes photos almost instantly since there's no need for it to focus thanks to the advanced technology, he said.

Before rushing to buy one of these game-changing devices, however, one should be aware that there are limitations to what the camera and its associated software can currently do, Mossberg said.  "Its ‘living pictures’ can't be imported into standard photo software, only to its own accompanying software. The pictures can be exported into the standard JPEG format for use in other software, but then they lose their ability to be refocused," he explained in his Wall Street Journal column on the camera.  He also noted that it cannot currently crop photos and the software only works on Macs at the moment, though more features and a Windows version are coming.

For this reason, Mossberg told FOX Business he’d consider it more of a second camera for most people, but he still found it very promising.  "I certainly think it has the potential to become your principle camera when you're not using your cell phone or... they could even get this kind of technology eventually into cell phones," he said.

"This is an American innovation story and it's an example where somebody has up-ended a whole thing we've all taken for granted by bringing out a whole new way of looking at it," Mossberg concluded.

If you're interested in seeing how the technology works in action, you can check out Lytro's interactive photo gallery that lets you refocus photos.

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